Tasha Stephens has served in the U.S. Navy, and found success in high-level jobs across the nation. But one day she looked around and knew something was missing.
“I had my head down working, working, but at age 41 I realized it’s not all about work,” said Stephens, of Fuquay-Varina. “I’d always wanted children, and there are so many children who need homes. I thought, ‘God has blessed me. Why not share?’”
Stephens contacted the nonprofit Children’s Home Society of North Carolina in early 2015, and leapt into the adoption process. She underwent 10 weeks of parental training, an extensive background check, a physical exam, home visits and interviews.
All the while, “I was praying, ‘Please send a child who needs me as much as I need them … and by Christmas!’” Stephens said. “I called every day, twice a day, saying ‘I know there’s somebody out there.’”
After two false starts, the call came and Stephens met Elizabeth, aka Lizzy, who was living at a children’s home in Wilkesboro.
“I had butterflies. I was already in love after talking with CHS about this child,” she said. “Lizzy was peeking out from behind her social worker. Everything I prayed for was happening. Lizzy came a little closer. We talked, and I braided her hair. And my heart just knew.”
Lizzy knew too, and by their second visit was ready to pack her bags for Fuquay-Varina. She officially moved in with Stephens on Dec. 23, 2015, just in time for Christmas.
“I was happy. I was feeling good,” said Lizzy, now 9. “I stayed at (the children’s home) a long time, trying to find a mommy. This is better, ’cause I get to live with her.”
The adoption was finalized in November 2016 with a courthouse ceremony and a new birth certificate. Now every night, this mother and daughter pray together for other children to find a family too.
- At least 21 years old
- Married or single
- Sufficient income to meet the needs of your family
- Provide the child a bed plus drawer and closet space
More to love
Last year the Children’s Home Society of North Carolina completed the adoptions of 143 children, but at the end of 2016 there were 2,400 children still eligible for adoption. In January, the organization declared a crisis-level shortage of permanent homes for adoptable children.
“Five percent of my friends understood what I was doing,” Stephens said. “I had to convince the other 95 percent, who worried about the child I’d get.
“CHS, or any agency helping children find homes, is awesome but the children’s bios could scare you away. They can be hard to read. They’re very honest and disclose every (negative) behavior, even if it only happened once. But Lizzy is not the same child, now that she’s out of that old environment.”
Jamaica Pfister, area director of Business Development and Advocacy for CHSNC, says cost is another concern surrounding adoption.
“Adopting a child from the foster care system is actually almost free,” Pfister said. “Families typically only have to pay for the cost of a few paperwork requirements such as a criminal record check and fire inspection. In fact, many of the children adopted from the foster care system are eligible for financial assistance even after the adoption is finalized.”
Children adopted after their 12th birthdays are also eligible for free tuition at North Carolina public universities and technical schools, she adds.
“Every child, no matter what their circumstances, deserves a safe, loving, committed and permanent family,” Pfister said.
According to statistics from adoption parenting network Adoptive Families, the cost of a domestic newborn adoption averages $38,063. Domestic foster adoption costs average $2,811, and international adoption $42,281.
These costs can be offset by adoption tax credits of about $13,000, and sometimes by employer assistance of up to $5,000, says attorney E. Parker Herring.
Herring is the founder of A Child’s Hope in Raleigh, which matches birth mothers with North Carolina adoptive families.
It’s one of more than 20 licensed adoption agencies in our state, and has eight adoption counselors located throughout.
“Adoption is a wonderful way to build a family,” said Herring, the adoptive parent of two boys, who has lobbied for positive changes in North Carolina’s adoption laws. “Look at it this way: IVF (in-vitro fertilization) costs $20,000 with no guarantee; but most agencies work with you until you have a child.”
Some families obtain an equity line of credit to fund their adoption, while others actively fundraise.
A Child’s Hope handles mostly newborn adoptions, with average costs last year of $37,000, and an average wait time of 13 months.
“The more open you are to issues we see in adoption, such as race, the shorter the timeframe in waiting,” Herring said.
At CHSNC, Pfister says the goal is to place children in a home within 18 months. Children placed in the Triangle area through CHSNC range in age from 7 months to 17 years.
“Some of the advantages of adopting an older child are no diapers, no day care costs, and skipping the terrible twos,” she said. “Getting to take them to fun activities like water parks and amusement parks. Watching them have fun playing sports. They’re more independent.”
No matter the age of the child, Pfister said, “When we’re at the point of matching a family, we know them well and know their strengths. We look at the needs of the child, and try to match them with families that can meet those needs. We also work closely with the Department of Social Services, as they know the children well. We take into consideration the child’s desires regarding the type of family they want.”
Family, as in Stephens and Lizzy, who thanks to her new mom is enjoying cheerleading and sports, is doing well in third grade, and celebrated her birthday with new aunts, uncles, cousins and friends.
“Lizzy’s first week here I heard her calling, ‘Mommy, mommy,’ and it felt really good,” Stephens said. “To introduce her as my daughter still gives me butterflies.”